That status is going to be put to the test early, as the Colts open the season Sunday night in Denver against the defending AFC champion Denver Broncos.
If the Colts are going to down Peyton Manning and the Broncos for a second time in a row, running the football effectively is key. Not only does it move the chains, but also it keeps Manning and the buzzsaw that is Denver's offense on the sidelines.
On Thursday, Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton made it clear to Mike Chappell of The Indianapolis Star that the team has every intention of running the ball effectively in 2014:
#colts Hamilton: We expect to be able to run the football. Helps protect the QB.— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) September 4, 2014
Apparently, Pep was napping during the preseason when Richardson had the rock, because it's nigh impossible to see how the Colts plan to pull that off with the third overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft as their lead ball-carrier.
Since averaging a pitiful 2.9 yards a carry in his first season with the Colts (14 games), the club spent the entire offseason talking up the 24-year-old.
They said Richardson was nicked up. They said he didn't know the offense.
It appeared for a second that Richardson might be turning a corner of sorts. A few weeks ago, Stephen Holder of The Indianapolis Star singled out Richardson as one of the standouts of training camp:
This one probably deserves an asterisk, because at the start of camp, it seemed as though things were touch and go with Richardson. He didn't practice for the first week of camp, sidelined as a precaution because of a hamstring injury suffered in pre-camp workouts.
But Richardson made his presence felt after returning, running with the sort of determination and decisiveness that gives the Colts hope he can rebound from a subpar 2013 season. Richardson says he's healthier now than he was entering his two previous pro seasons, and he looks it.
The Colts need Richardson at his best, and he's off to a great start.
Then the preseason started, and it was right back to three yards a pop.
Actually, it wasn't even that. Richardson averaged all of 2.6 yards per carry in the preseason, and by Aug. 21 even general manager Ryan Grigson was starting to show some frustration, via Mike Wells of ESPN.com:
Trent, he needs to answer the bell and do his job to the best of his ability. We’re all accountable here. I will say this, there are a lot of backs last year that wouldn’t have got [2.4] considering the amount of people he had in that box and the amount of bodies that were hitting him before he even seemed to get the ball sometimes. He’s such a hard runner, we know how tough he is, but he’s got to produce just like all these guys do on this final 53.
The problem is that "best of his ability" part, because through two NFL seasons Richardson hasn't shown anything resembling the tailback who dominated at the University of Alabama. Instead, the Colts have gotten a plodder with questionable vision who spends most of his time falling forward for minimal gains.
Mind you, this isn't to say that Bradshaw is some mystical panacea that's going to magically fix everything. He's a 28-year-old tailback with a lengthy injury history coming off a serious neck injury who barely saw the field in the preseason.
Still, Bradshaw told The Herald Bulletin (via Chris Wesseling of NFL.com) that's he healthy and ready to go in 2014:
There are not a lot of guys that have been through neck surgeries and a year later they are playing football again, especially at my position. Right now, as we speak, I am as confident as anything going in. I don't think about my neck at all playing, and I am just shooting forward from here on.
When healthy, Bradshaw has shown the ability to be a capable NFL running back. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards twice while with the New York Giants. Bradshaw can catch the ball out of the backfield, and he's one of the better running backs in the league at pass protection.
He also showed more in three games with the Colts last year than Richardson did in 14. In gaining 95 yards on 19 carries in a big win over the San Francisco 49ers last September, Bradshaw showed power and burst against one of the NFL's best defenses.
Who should be the starting running back for the Indianapolis Colts?
Unfortunately, in that game he also got hurt, and since then it's been Richardson's show. And, boy, has that show been bad. Like Jersey Shore bad. Like Cop Rock bad. Yes, a musical about cops was a TV show once.
It's understandable that the Colts want Richardson to pan out after giving up a first-round pick to get him. After all, spending top dollar on a diamond ring only to find out it's cubic zirconia is not conducive to the job security of NFL general managers.
Still, at some point, enough is enough. Richardson is what he is. What he isn't is anything resembling an elite (or even good) NFL running back. Admit the mistake, move on and give Bradshaw the nod before those Super Bowl aspirations disappear.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.